Perspective Newsletter
Spring 2015
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Too tired to cook, but sick of takeout? Subscription meals may be the answer

​​​​Sound familiar? It's 6 p.m. and you're just leaving work. The last thing you want to do is swing by the store, chop vegetables, and tend the stove for the next hour. So instead, you stop for takeout. Again.

A subscription cook-at-home meal service – where fresh ingredients arrive at home, chopped, premeasured, and ready to go from box-to-table in 30 minutes – might be a healthier and cheaper alternative.

But are they really a good deal? And what about a branded box sitting on your porch screaming, "I'm busy and I'm gone a lot!" – a risk not only for attracting porch pirates but, perhaps, even bolder thieves?

How the services work

Typically, you go online to order two or three family meals (usually dinners) from a weekly menu of options. They may be traditional, vegetarian, organic, gluten-free, or just about anything. Then on the day you choose, a box of ingredients and recipe cards shows up at your door. It includes everything you need to cook the dishes yourself, except for staples like oil, salt, and pepper.

Cost-wise, you can figure about $10 to $12 a plate. That's more than you'd spend if you shopped for the ingredients yourself, but probably less than you'd pay for takeout or delivery. Plus, you aren't buying more ingredients than you need so, for example, you don't end up with a whole bottle of spice that you'll never use again. From a waste-cutting perspective, it may be cheaper than it appears.

So what's not to like?

Some busy families swear by the services. Others say it's hard to get picky kids to try some of the foods and, sometimes, that "30-minute-box-to-table" estimate is overly optimistic. Also, portions can be a little off – too much for a younger child, but not enough for a starving teenager.

You also have to read the ingredient list carefully, especially if allergies are an issue in your family or you're trying to watch calories. Although they're generally healthier than takeout food, some subscription meals can pack high fat and low fiber.

The other concern (and why we're weighing in!) is that box on your doorstep. People often choose subscription meal services for one big reason: They're gone at work all day. A box of food sitting out on the porch tells would-be thieves they'd likely have the place to themselves.

And then there's the food itself. Unless you opt for vegan entrees, most boxes contain raw meat or dairy ingredients that must be kept at 40 degrees or less. They're packaged with weather in mind (ice packs, insulated liners), but if the box sits outside on a blazing hot day, you'll want to be sure the contents stayed safely cold so you aren't risking bacterial growth and foodborne illness.

Our two-cents: You may want to follow the same safe-delivery suggestions for subscription meal services as you do for any other package. Consider having it delivered to your work address or a trusted neighbor who's home during the day.

Worth it?

It can be, especially if you're looking to save time, reduce waste, get out of a fast-food rut, or force portion control. Just do your homework when choosing a company to suit your family's tastes. Most run great introductory deals to attract new subscribers. If you're not thrilled with the first one, just try another.

Watch the story on Q13